June 4 | This Week in Government: Court of Appeals Affirms Decision to Remove Detroit Charter from BallotJune 4, 2021
- Court of Appeals Affirms Decision to Remove Detroit Charter from Ballot
- Gov, GOP Approps Chairs Hopeful for Smooth Budget Process
- Whitmer Proposes Using Grants for Temporary Wage Hike
- Amended Photo ID Bill Reported By Senate Elections Panel
- Pride Month Resolutions Pass Legislature for First Time
A split Court of Appeals panel in a 2-1 decision Thursday ruled that proposed changes to Detroit’s city charter will remain off the August ballot.
Affirming the previous decision of the Wayne Circuit Court in Sheffield, et al v. Detroit City Clerk, et al (COA Docket No. 357298) were Judge Thomas Cameron and Judge Anica Letica. Judge Karen Fort Hood wrote a dissenting opinion disagreeing with the majority’s conclusions, stating that she would have Proposal P placed on the ballot.
The initial lawsuit was filed by Detroit pastor and activist Rev. Horace Sheffield III and Rodrick Harbin, a Detroit resident. Defendants include Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey and the Detroit Election Commission, who were accused in the lawsuit as allowing illegal proposed charter revisions to go on the August ballot. A consolidated suit (Lewis et al, v. Detroit City Clerk) includes the same defendants but counts Allen Lewis and Ingrid White as plaintiffs.
The Detroit Charter Revision Commission intervened as a defendant in the case. Both Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan have opposed the changes.
Plaintiffs had argued changes proposed by the commission were unable to be approved by voters because Gov. Whitmer did not approve of them – to which the Governor doubled down on in late May – noting that the changes contained substantial legal flaws.
Judge Timothy Kenny agreed with plaintiffs with reasoning centered around interpretation of the Home Rule City Act, triggering an appeal from the charter committee in the Court of Appeals. The committee attempted to bypass the appellate court, filing with the Michigan Supreme Court as well.
The high court this week stayed Kenny’s order until the Court of Appeals could review the case and denied the attempted bypass.
Writing for the majority was Cameron, who said that he and Letica agreed with the trial court’s assertion.
“Furthermore, we are not convinced by appellant’s argument that the proposed revised charter can simply proceed to a vote by the electors without the Governor’s approval, since the express language … does not forbid it,” Cameron wrote. “We agree with the trial court that defendants’ interpretation would make submission of the draft revision to the governor for approval an ’empty and useless gesture.’ When interpreting statutory language, courts should presume that the Legislature did not intend to do a useless thing and attempt to give effect to all statutory language.”
In dissent, Hood said she disagreed that state law prevents the committee from submitting its revisions to electors.
“Keeping in mind that we construe the constitutional provisions broadly in favor of the commission, I would decline to read the (Home Rule City Act) as creating an unspoken obligation on the part of the commission that limits their constitutional authority,” she wrote.
Gov, GOP Approps Chairs Hopeful for Smooth Budget Process
With legislative leaders on the Appropriations committees and the State Budget Office now meeting on the budget, all sides have expressed optimism for an agreement with movement on the 2021-22 budget expected in the coming weeks.
Nearly two weeks ago, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare), and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) came to an agreement that would facilitate the Legislature and administration attempting to come together on the budget.
Before that announcement, the House and Senate were working on budget items without negotiating with the administration.
Now, Budget Director Dave Massaron, Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland), and Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell), along with Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit) and Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing), have had discussions regarding the budget.
“I’m hopeful that our leadership can all come to an agreement and we can start all working together on a normal basis,” Albert said Wednesday. “Right now, we’re doing the best we can.”
Stamas said initial conversations have begun with Albert and Massaron, which he believes are moving in a positive direction thus far.
As to budget targets, Stamas said his hope would be to have budget targets agreed upon “by middle or end of next week if not sooner” to allow time for final agreement on the budget. Albert said he anticipates conference committees could begin kicking out final budgets in mid-June.
Gov. Whitmer said her administration and legislative leaders have set up a good process to bring the budget to conclusion.
“We’re continuing to work that. Dave Massaron, our budget director, is in regular conversations with the Approps chairs in all four caucuses,” she said after an unrelated Tuesday event. “I’m confident that we’re going to navigate this and find some good common ground and be able to get the relief, the federal relief that came from the Biden administration and the Trump administration that hasn’t been deployed yet because it hasn’t been appropriated. We’ve got to get that out the door, into our classrooms, into our businesses, into the pockets of hardworking Michiganders who just need a little help to get back on their feet.”
Along with the budget, there is billions of dollars in federal money the state can spend as well, with a portion being for schools and other programs that are more prescriptive and another portion with more wiggle room.
Albert said he believes the stricter portion for schools and other items could move more quickly while the funding the state has more control over will likely work with the budget.
“This is a very unique year because we not only have a regular budget, we also have supplementals going on and we also have billions of dollars that are sitting on the sidelines,” Albert said.
Regarding the billions in federal coronavirus relief funding, Stamas said he could see some of the federal funds appropriated alongside the budget also a large portion being directed toward targeted investments. He has previously expressed an interest in using a significant chunk of the federal funding for some form of infrastructure investment to provide long-term benefits for the state.
As to budget negotiations, Stamas said all negotiations are tough, but the goal is to complete the necessary work in time to meet the July 1 budget deadline.
Whitmer Proposes Using Grants for Temporary Wage Hike
Employers would be eligible to receive grants to bring workers now making less than $15 per hour to that level for three months if they agree to keep the higher wage for another three months, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed Thursday.
Gov. Whitmer called for using $300 million of the state’s share of American Rescue Plan funds to pay for the plan, designed to help encourage workers into the workforce. Michigan and most states are having problems with a larger than usual portion of the population not seeking work.
The reason why is the subject of much debate, whether it is worker frustration with insufficient wages, continued enhanced federal unemployment benefits making lower-wage jobs less desirable, fear of COVID-19, lack of child care, another factor, or some combination of these factors.
“This is a great way to solve the problem of elevating wages and getting people back into the workforce and helping small business,” Gov. Whitmer said at a Grand Rapids news conference.
Gov. Whitmer said there would be clawback provisions if an employer did not fulfill its pledge to continue the $15 per hour wages for the second three-month increment.
The Governor called the proposal a six-month plan to encourage workers back into the workforce and aide businesses in need of workers.
“The market will drive what happens thereafter, but this is our opportunity to support businesses getting back on their feet and critically support the people that do the hard work who need to take care of their families,” she said.
The proposal would require legislative approval.
Also requiring legislative approval were other proposals unveiled Thursday by Gov. Whitmer:
- $120 million into the Michigan Reconnect program that provides tuition-free education for a credential, certificate, or associate degree for anyone 25 and older and $60 million into the Futures for Frontliners program that Gov. Whitmer set up to provide tuition-free options to those deemed frontline workers during the pandemic;
- $100 million to help restaurants and other “place-based businesses” cover costs like mortgage, rent, taxes, and payroll with grants of up to $20,000 with $25 million just for businesses with eight or fewer employees;
- $125 million for businesses with eight or less employees that did not qualify for other incentive programs with the idea being to work with community development financial institutions to provide loans;
- $75 million for grants to startup businesses; and
- Hiring 50 full-time workers for the Unemployment Insurance Agency to help meet the expected need to process work search requirements.
Gov. Whitmer also reiterated her proposal, part of her 2021-22 fiscal year budget recommendation, for $370 million to expand child care access temporarily by raising the income eligibility threshold from 150% to 200% of the federal poverty level, waiving out-of-pocket copays through the 2021-22 fiscal year and raising hourly wages for child care providers by 10%.
Budget bills for the upcoming fiscal year are due to Gov. Whitmer by the end of the month.
Of the Governor’s proposals on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) said in a statement: “The economy certainly needs attention after the governor dismantled large parts of it with her COVID policies. How to best help Michigan recover will certainly play a role in budget proceedings.”
Amended Photo ID Bill Reported By Senate Elections Panel
Legislation requiring photo identification for voters applying for an absentee ballot took its first step Wednesday with a vote of the Senate Elections Committee to report the bill along party lines, sending the bills to the full chamber to be taken up at an as-yet-unknown date.
Reported on Wednesday was SB 285, a bill that would require an individual who applies for an absentee ballot through the Department of State or their local clerk to verify their identity through one of several options: by providing their Michigan driver’s license number, their Michigan personal identification card number or the last four digits of their Social Security number, showing their valid ID to their local clerk for election purposes or attaching or sending a copy of their ID for election purposes along with their ballot application in the mail.
Several other changes were made in an S-1 substitute version of the bill which was adopted during the committee’s previous hearing last week that prompted hours of at-times sharply contested debate.
The bill was reported by a 3-1 vote.
Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), the committee chair, told reporters that the 2018 ballot measure that enacted no-reason absentee voting for all residents made the state’s election system vulnerable because a person could register and vote without ever showing their ID or mail in a ballot without ever having been seen.
“We no longer have to show identification at all to register or vote, and we never have to see the real person once,” Johnson said. “It’s left a big hole in the system and it’s very important to get it fixed.”
Also reported Wednesday by votes of 3-1 were SB 303 and SB 304. Under SB 303, a requirement of providing a voter with a provisional ballot if they do not have identification when voting in person would be enacted, while SB 304 would require that provisional ballots must contain a notice that they will only be tabulated if a voter verifies his or her identity with the proper local clerk within six days after an election.
The bills are among the first of a 39-bill package introduced by Senate Republicans to make significant changes to the state’s elections process.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in a statement said Republicans have been “legislating on lies” regarding election integrity despite what she said is a fact that the 2020 elections were more secure than any past election.
“The bills passed today will do nothing to bolster the extremely strong voter ID laws Michigan already has, and the politicians pushing the bills through are fine with that, because their real goal is reducing voter turnout,” Benson said. “By suggesting voters include a photocopy of their ID with their absentee ballot request form, lawmakers are exposing voters to identity theft. And prohibiting the use of a signed and sworn affidavit to confirm a voter’s identity will only increase the number of votes that never get counted.”
Johnson was not buying the arguments put forth by Benson about identity theft.
“I think we always have to be careful about that,” Johnson said of providing their driver’s license number or last four digits of their Social Security number with their application. “This is something that’s used in other ways, too, that we mail in things, so it’s no different than many of the other forms and things that we do.”
She added that in today’s society many actions require an ID, such as buying an alcoholic beverage or a fishing license.
The Michigan Democratic Party in a release following the votes said Republicans are trying to circumvent the 2018 ballot measure that was supported by about two-thirds of voters. The party further stated that it believed the Senate Republicans’ 39-bill election package as a whole is an effort to throw up unnecessary roadblocks to voting.
Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes in a statement said the GOP bills are an attack on voting rights, adding she believed it dangerous for elected officials of the other party and their supporters to be pushing that voting be treated more like a privilege rather than a right.
“The GOP attack on voting rights is just that – an attack. And it isn’t just happening in Michigan. This is a targeted attempt across the country to disenfranchise Democratic voters all because their presidential candidate of choice didn’t win in 2020,” Barnes said. “It is painfully obvious that the Republicans cannot beat us at the ballot box, and instead are attempting a shameful approach with the hopes of winning while disenfranchising millions of voters that have every right to cast a ballot.”
For SB 285, another change in the current bill is to require that a provisional ballot would be provided to the voter if none of the options available to a person to verify their identity were provided. Voters who receive a provisional ballot would have six days after an election to provide proof of ID via any of the options in the bill to their local clerk for their ballot to be counted.
Also under the SB 285 substitute, local clerks would be provided with access to the Department of State’s system, which would enable them to confirm a voter’s ID through the options outlined in the bill.
Pride Month Resolutions Pass Legislature for First Time
The House and Senate – both for the first time Thursday – adopted nonbinding resolutions acknowledging June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pride Month, a departure from previous years in which such proposals have been denied being brought to the floor for consideration.
Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), the Senate’s lone openly gay member, thanked his colleagues for the adoption of SR 60.
In June 2020, the failure to bring his resolution for that year to the floor drew a sharp rebuke by the senator in remarks to the entire chamber, noting that numerous resolutions for items such as craft beer month and other such symbolic items were typically taken up, but the LGBTQ community was annually ignored.
Moss said following session Thursday that the craft beer month resolution passing in 2020 while his resolution was bypassed may have been a turning point.
“I think craft beer month resolution certainly helped put a mirror up to the Senate that we pass resolutions all the time of lesser consequence that some members disagree with, and that’s OK, but this one I think has significant consequence to LGBTQ Michiganders in every single Michigan Senate district,” Moss said.
He said the resolution simply is asking for recognition of members of his community.
Moss called the resolution a first step, adding that expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to provide protections for the LGBTQ community is a significant priority. In March, he also introduced SB 208, which would include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression as areas protecting under the act. Moss said the act needs to be changed at some point.
Over the last year he said he and others continued to shine a light on the struggle the LGBTQ community has to get recognition, adding he believes there is “a lot of soft and quiet support in this chamber for the community.”
Moss has pushed for getting a resolution passed each year he has been in the Legislature. He said after a lack of movement on resolutions in years past, it was surprising to him how difficult it was to get it adopted when it would simply take a voice vote.
Two Republicans, Sen. Jim Stamas of Midland and Sen. Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City, joined the Democrats as cosponsors to SR 60. Schmidt was the lone Republican cosponsor on the resolution in 2020 put forward by Moss.
No Republicans co-sponsored HR 122, the House LGBTQ Pride Month resolution that also passed by voice vote Thursday.
Schmidt. following session, said the resolution was an important statement and he was glad to work with Moss on it.
“This is Michigan, we should be inclusive of everybody,” Schmidt said. “It’s important that we, that we make a statement … and while some might think it’s just symbolic, I think that Michigan has become much more accepting and these are fellow Michiganders – our friends, our neighbors, our family members. It’s the right thing to do.”
COUNTY COMMISSIONER TERMS: Legislation that would lengthen county commissioner terms of office from two years to four years passed Thursday by votes of 32-4.
Under SB 242, county boards of commissioners would have four-year terms beginning with the November 2024 election. Another bill, SB 245, would provide for the same but in relation to county charters and would begin Jan. 1, 2025. Michigan is one of five states that have two-year terms for county commissioners.